'Food Network Star' Recap: The Press-ure Is On
'Food Network Star' Recap: The Press-ure Is On
Jenn Lee
Jenn Lee
Staff Writer, BuddyTV
It's week 7 and the competition has whittled down to three finalists on each team, so it's time to take the show to the next level. From this point forward, every contestant will be judged on their own merit (which means no more relying on your team to carry you). Teamwork gone--just your own Food Network Star potential to stand on. Who will be exposed this week?

Star Challenge: Meet the Press
The three producers announce the challenge for this week: preparing one bite to present to four media representatives in a 90-second EPK (electronic press kit). Not only is this their first challenge without their team to fall back on, but this challenge will also be done without the presence of their valued mentors.

Like proud but nervous parents, the producers gather their teams for a brainstorming session before they send them off on their own. Martie and Justin offer the personal stories they're going to share, but Emily states she's "not comfortable" sharing her family anecdotes on camera. This is the first bit of guarded resistance we've seen from the normally spunky girl with retro outfits. On the other teams, Bobby advises Nikki to focus on being that approachable girl next door (after being told she was too abrasive last week) and Giada demands Martita make it personal this week--or she's going home.

By now, we know what to expect in the FNS kitchen. Justin is creating some absurd concoction (this time it's peanut butter stuffed dates with duck and nori), Yvan is flitting around trying to figure out how to mold himself and Martie is thrown yet another curveball, causing her to seriously sweat it until the final seconds. Unexpectedly, Nikki is adorning her dish with rose petals (to show her delicate side) and Emily is still hung up on her fear of revealing her past.

It's go-time, and Malcolm, aka the finalist with the least air time, is up first. He talks fast about disliking mint jelly, but he shows a confidence and control that impresses the judges. They call his lamb chop "insanely" delicious, but Bob and Susie worry about his consistency. Martie reveals a more tender side in a story about being abandoned during sorority rush week, but manages to turn that into her present-day party-throwing persona. The network loves her "winning personality," and for the first time in a while, Martie might not be in danger this week. Michele's lobster arancini presentation was a bit "contained," but the press liked the contradiction of her warmth with her seemingly tough exterior.

Team Giada is up, and Martita tries to be personal and herself for the umpteenth time. The problem is, she finishes with 30 seconds to go, and instead of improvising, sampling her food more or, really, anything other than utter silence, she simply stands there and smiles like a statue for the most awkward 30 seconds in on-camera history. Sorry, Martita--I don't care how tasty your floutas are, that harsh Entertainment Tonight correspondant is right--you would be fired if this were your real job. Bob finally points out Yvan's weird upspeak habit, but when he questions the eager-to-please hopeful's connection with food, Yvan shares a moving story about looking for food in the garbage as a kid, bringing Susie to tears and claiming to have a "whole new vision" of him. Ippy's feedback has not changed the slightest--the judges think he needs more energy, but he doesn't want to compromise who he is (a laid-back Hawaiian). Something's gotta give, here.

Emily, who has been a strong contender up to this point, is crumbling before our eyes. She can't make it personal and ends up catching on her own words. The press finds her awkward; this is not good. Justin sets out to prove his quirky persona is genuine and does one better by bringing "a joy and a sweetness" the network hasn't seen before. It's not surprising the super intense Nikki has taken her feedback from last week and overcorrected--she presents the judges with a girly-ness complete with petals on the plate that confuses them. Plus, she got one of the few negative food comments on her grilled scallops.

Producer Challenge: Burger Personified
It is announced that next week the competition will visit Miami for the South Beach Food and Wine Festival! Which is a bummer for whoever goes home tonight. But first, the standout finalists of the week are... Justin and Martie! (Alton can't contain his genuine smile). Unfortunately, that leaves Emily at the bottom, joined by Nikki and Martita. The three ladies must make the perfect burger that represents them and their POV.

Martita gets to work on her chorizo torta and Nikki's pissed she has to go through this for the third time. She decides to quit catering to others' expectations and just be herself (finally!) But the focus is on dear Emily. Obviously, she goes for a classic '50s diner hamburger, but the real issue is why she's suddenly so guarded and unable to dig deeper as to why she's clung to this "retro rad" concept so desperately. Even the at-times-unemotional Alton Brown pushes her, asking her why she's so drawn to the past. But an emotional Emily can't or won't verbalize her trepidation. Even before the Pitch Room, it's easy to think Emily's time is up.

The Pitch Room
At long last, it seems Martita has finally come out of her shell by dedicating her burger to one of her three younger sisters. The network heartily welcomed the glimpse of someone deeper in her on-camera segment. Likewise, Nikki has finally managed to come across as someone who is confident but not scripted or artificial. Emily's segment is all right, but Bob questions if she's progressed far enough at this point in the competition.

By now, it's no surprise--Emily is going home this week. I'm pretty sure if Martita didn't have that small breakthrough in the Producer Challenge, she could have just as easily been eliminated. But the truth is Martita did come through, and Emily, unexpectedly, fell apart this week. And on FNS, it's not so much about how you've performed in the past, but how much you progress. It's a little sad to see Justin look so crushed and when Alton whispers "I'm sorry" to Emily, my heart breaks a little. She was a special one, but that goes to show you how unpredictable this show can be. That said, my money's still on Justin. What did you all think of this episode's outcome?

(Image courtesy of Food Network)

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